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Live maths


Inspired by the Gathering For Gardner, MathsJam is an opportunity for like-minded self-confessed maths enthusiasts to get together for a weekend and share stuff they like. Puzzles, games, problems, or just anything they think is cool or interesting. You can find out more on the MathsJam site, where you can reserve your place for this fun event.

When: 13-14 November
Where: Yarnfield Park, Midlands
Booking: Register your interest (no obligation) at the MathsJam site

Hands-on workshop: Algorithms

A hands-on workshop for ages 16-18 exploring algorithms, led by Professor Tom Körner. This is part of the Cambridge Maths Circle event organised by staff and students at the Cambridge Mathematics Faculty.

When: Saturday 13th of November 2010, 10:15 - 11:15
Where: Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Wilberforce Road, Cambridge CB3 0WA
Booking: The workshop is free but pre-booking is essential. Email [log in to unmask] or phone 01223 766839 or 764777

Continued fractions

What are continued fractions? How can they tell us what is the most irrational number? What are they good for and what unexpected properties do they possess? How did Ramanujan make good use of their odd features to make striking discoveries? Professor John D. Barrow looks at how they have played a role in the study of numbers, chaos, gears and astronomical motions.

When: Tuesday 16 November 2010, 1pm
Where: Museum of London, London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN
Booking: Free, visit the Gresham site

Mathematics, magic and the electric guitar

Join David Acheson, author of the bestselling popular maths book ‘1089 and All That’, on a thrilling and off-beat journey through deep mathematical ideas.

When: Thursday 18th November 2010, 7:30pm-8:30pm
Where: Science Oxford Live, 1-5 London Place, Oxford OX4 1BD
Booking: Tickets are £5, available from [log in to unmask] or by calling 01865728953

13th early career mathematicians conference

The early career mathematicians conference, organised by the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, gives delegates the opportunity to hear talks and participate in workshops on all aspects of mathematics, as well as networking with other mathematicians. In between the talks will be plenty of time for eating and socialising with other like-minded mathematicians as well as quizzing the speakers in more depth on their topics. You qualify as an early career mathematician if you're within 15 years of graduating from a university mathematics degree or are a member of the IMA who does not have a degree and are within 15 years of the first time you joined the IMA.

When: Saturday 20th November 2010
Where: DeMorgan House, 57-58 Russell Square, London
Booking: Tickets are £30 for non-IMA members, £20 for IMA members and £10 for students. Register on the IMA site.

Celebrate Christmas with weird physics

Ever wondered how your cat can be dead and alive at the same time, or whether there could be a version of you with tentacles editing a magazine in a parallel universe? Dr Paul Stevenson will discuss weird physics — the brain contorting conundrums that give us lasers, phone apps, MRI scanners and light switches.

When: Friday 17th December 2010 6pm
Where: St George’s Lecture Theatre, Sheffield
Booking: The event is free to attend and is suitable especially for families with children from 8+. To register for tickets visit

Latest news

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And the Nobel Prize in Mathematics goes to...
There'd be no Nobel Prizes without maths

Benoit Mandelbrot has died
A quick look at Mandelbrot's legacy


Latest articles

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Curious dice
In this article we present a set of unusual dice and a two-player game in which you will always have the advantage. You can even teach your opponent how the game works, yet still win again! We'll also look at a new game for three players in which you can potentially beat both opponents — at the same time!


Latest podcasts

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Does quantum physics really describe reality?
Quantum physics is a funny thing. With counterintuitive ideas such as superposition and entanglement, it doesn't seem to resemble reality as we know it, yet quantum physics is an incredibly successful theory of how the physical world operates. Plus talks to Roger Penrose, John Polkinghorne and other experts about how we can resolve the mysteries of quantum physics with our experience of reality.


Other new content

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Grapple with our latest puzzle and read a review of Marcus du Sautoy's latest book, The Number Mysteries.

And visit the Plus blog to see black holes collide, find out about MathsJam and more....


Browse with Plus — Poetry with maths

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Mathematical language can heighten the imagery of a poem, and mathematical structure can deepen its effect. This blog by JoAnne Growney lets you feast on an international menu of poems made rich by maths.

Maths in a minute — Simpson's paradox

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Suppose you're trying to decide which university to go to. You find out that last year the university you're interested in admitted 30% of male applicants but only 21.3% of female applicants. Looks like a clear case of gender bias, so you're tempted to go somewhere else. But then you look at the figures again, this time broken up by department. The university only has two departments, maths and English. The English department admitted 40% of male applicants and 42% of female applicants. The maths department admitted 10% of male applicants and 11% of female applicants. So if you look at the figures by department, if anything there's bias in favour of women. What's going on?

This is an example of Simpson's paradox, which arises when you look at percentages without giving the actual numbers involved. Suppose the English department admits quite a high proportion of applicants, while the maths department is more choosy and admits only a small proportion. Now suppose that most of the male applicants apply to the English department. Then this drives up the overall percentage of successful male applicants, as English is easier to get into. Similarly, if most women apply to the maths department, then this lowers the overall percentage of successful women applicants, because maths is harder to get into. So it can happen that, although both departments favour women, the overall percentage of successful female applicants is lower than that for males.

Let's go back to the example: suppose that 100 men apply to the English department, so that means that 40 of them got in (40%). Suppose that only 50 women applied to the English department, so 21 of them got in (42%). Suppose the maths department had only 50 male applicants, so 5 got in (10%), and 100 female applicants, of which 11 got in (11%). Then the overall proportion of male applicants who were successful is 45/150 corresponding to 30%. For the women the overall proportion is 32/150 corresponding to 21.3%. Mystery solved.

This paradox isn't just a theoretical curiosity. In 1973 The University of California at Berkeley was sued for sex bias on the basis of figures that were an illustration of Simpson's paradox. It turned out that on the whole women had applied to more competitive departments and that's how the seemingly biased figures arose.

You can find out more about Simpson's paradox on Plus

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